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Why I Hate Romeo and Juliet (Sorry, Shakespeare)

Where’s the romance???

By Jūlija @beeofjulyPublished 11 months ago 9 min read
Top Story - October 2023
Why I Hate Romeo and Juliet (Sorry, Shakespeare)
Photo by Maksym Harbar on Unsplash

What famous fictional couple comes to mind when you think of love? Right. Romeo and Juliet.

Star-crossed lovers whose great love was not hindered even by the hatred between their families. Two young people who loved each other to the grave. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is often called the most romantic story of all times, and lovers from all around the world travel to Verona to get married on the so-called Juliet’s balcony. Romeo and Juliet is a key symbol of romance.

Only it’s not.

Let’s skip the fact that Juliet “[had] not seen the change of fourteen years” (I.II.9) and still had a nurse, while Romeo was probably 16 or 17, okay? It’s fine, I guess. Different times, different people. It was normal for people to marry at such a young age then, I get it. I’m not here to vent about child marriage, as weird as it all seems to me.

Let’s get to the point.

Maybe when you read that I hate Romeo and Juliet, you thought that I am the kind of girl who hAs nO tiMe fOr sApPy rOmaNce cRap. Wrong. I’m undeniably a dreamer and a hopeless romantic at heart. My problem with Romeo and Juliet is this: I was looking for a love story and found none.

(In case you’re wondering, yes, I did read the play.)

So here’s my first complaint.

Oh Romeo, my Romeo,

You’re fickle.

Boy, you were in love with another girl a moment ago.

A few scenes before the lovebirds meet, we see Romeo spilling his broken heart to his friends Mercurtio and Benvolio, venting about how the girl he’s head over heels in love with could never be his because she has made the decision to live chaste, which Romeo calls… a huge waste (the damsel has selfishly decided not to give her body to anyone, what a prude). He raves about her beauty and complains about how he could never forget her, for she is the fairest of all ladies and he loves her so much.

Right.

His friends encourage him to go to the Capulet party, in hopes that he would see other girls and it would help him move on.

And move on he did.

While Romeo agrees to go only “to rejoice in splendor of [his] own” (how cute, he’s loyal to his Rosaline), fate (aka Romeo’s hormones) has plans of its own. The moment Romeo sees Juliet, his feelings for Rosaline are gone in an instant. “Did my heart love till now?” wonders Romeo, “Forswear it, sight! For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.” And he straight proceeds to kiss his new love.

“Now old desire doth in his death-bed lie,

And young affection gapes to be his heir;

That fair for which love groan’d for and would die,

With tender Juliet match’d, is now not fair.”

If the object of his love can change so quickly, how am I supposed to believe that Romeo loves Juliet?

And I bet you must have noticed by now what love means to him.

Which brings us to my second point.

Lust vs love

No, sweeties, love from the first sight does not exist. Lust from the first sight? Duh. Infatuation from the first sight? Absolutely. Those things can somehow occur even without seeing the person. Love, though, runs deeper than appearances and dotes on more than looks. Clearly not the case for Romeo.

When Romeo was crying over his dear Rosaline and his friends insisted that there are more beautiful girls in the world (you don’t say!), this was what he said:

“When the devout religion of mine eye

Maintains such falsehood, then turn tears to fires;

And these, who often drown’d could never die,

Transparent heretics, be burnt for liars!

One fairer than my love! the all-seeing sun

Ne’er saw her match since first the world begun.”

It was all about her beauty. And the same happens when he meats Juliet. What he notices about her is her beauty, “too rich for use, for earth too dear”. “Now Romeo is beloved and loves again,” we are told by the chorus in the prologue of Act II. “Alike betwitched by the charm of looks.”

Not that Romeo is the only one to fall for the other person’s looks. Romeo and Juliet have barely shared a conversation (the subject of which, by the way, is kissing), when Juliet realises what sorrow has befallen her. When she finds out the “gentleman” she just kissed is a Montegue, an enemy of her family, she is overcome with anguish and exclaims,

“My only love sprung from my only hate!

Too early seen unknown, and known too late!

Prodigious birth of love it is to me,

That I must love a loathed enemy.”

Poor girl. What she said would be heart-wrenching if only there was any love to be found.

The thing is, love is not about how beautiful the other person is or how many butterflies you feel dancing in your stomach when you look at them. Love runs much deeper and it develops gradually, the two getting to know each other, slowly opening up and growing fond of the other’s heart and mind. Beauty is fleeting, and charm is vain. Love dreams of the inner beauty of a person, not just the outer one.

It’s funny that I was still a tiny little girlie when I started to realize the difference between physical attraction and love. Having my mind filled with fairy-tales since a young age, I vaguely remember daydreaming about the love of my life choosing me because of me being the most beautiful girl in the world. And then I thought, “Hold on, what if another girl showed up who was more beautiful than me? Wouldn’t he then leave me for her?” Well, it seems to me that if my love was Romeo, he would indeed.

Actually, it is not the lovebirds from whom we should learn love. The only character in the play who seems to have some understanding of these things is a monk. Reminds me of that meme/post I once saw:

Anyways,

“Holy Saint Francis,” Friar Laurence exclaims, when Romeo tells him about his intention to marry Juliet,

“what a change is here!

Is Rosaline, whom thou didst love so dear,

So soon forsaken? young men’s love then lies

Not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes.

When Romeo retorts that the holy man often scolded him for “loving Rosaline” and bade him to “bury love”, Friar Laurence answers with my exact thoughts, “For doting, not for loving, pupil mine.”

Then the cornered lover boy tries to justify his change of heart, explaining that Juliet, unlike Rosaline, “doth grace for grace and love for love allow”, to which the friar replies with a perfect Shakespeare-style insult, saying, “O, she [Rosaline] knew well / Thy love did read by rote and could not spell”.

Why does everyone idealize the failed romance, while nobody seems to notice this?

True love lies in the heart, and that is something that neither of the two ever had because of yet another folly.

Rush after your “heart”?

It takes time to see another person’s soul. ✨That’s why love is not a fire that can be lit by a tiny spark. Love is a tree that pushes its roots deep into the soil, heartstrings entwining and souls entagling,✨ and trees obviously take time to grow. ✨But once a tree has been rooted deep into the soil of the heart, no winds can uproot it.

Shitty poetic analogies aside, what happens between Romeo and Juliet is the exact opposite. Having flirted in a quirky way for a minute or two, shared an earth-shattering kiss, as well as consequently spent the next few hours tormented by cardiointestinal butterflies, they now know each other soooo well. “My ears have not yet drunk a hundred words / Of that tongue’s utterance,” exclaims Juliet, having heard a certain voice from her window, “yet I know the sound: Art thou not Romeo and a Montague?” Wow, so it took her less than a hundred words. I’ve never read anything so romantic.

The girl is still a bit wiser than her slightly older lover. She pleads that Romeo give not an oath of love, feeling “no joy of this contract to-night: / It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden; / Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be / Ere one can say ‘It lightens.’” That I can agree with.

Nevertheless, pressured by the ever whining Romeo (“O, wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?”), she declares, “My bounty is as boundless as the sea, /My love as deep; the more I give to thee, /The more I have, for both are infinite.” Yeah, those are some things most of us might want to feel, as well as hear from our lovers, but — ahem — for how long has this girlie loved this Romeo guy to experience that boundless infinity? You guys have literally just spoken for a few minutes, and all that you’ve spoken of is your love, which is kind of circular: for true love to develop, you must get to know the other person, therefore you must talk to each other, but all you talk about is your love, for which to develop, you must ... you got it, I hope. And this is exactly why 14-year-olds probably shouldn’t be allowed to marry.

But they do.

The very next morning, Romeo visits Friar Laurence to tell him about his new love and seek his help in marrying Juliet. “O, let us hence; I stand on sudden haste,” Romeo is unable to contain his absolute lack of patience and self-control. The friar, though agreeing to the marriage in hopes of somehow reconciling the rival Capulet and Montague families, responds with fateful words, saying, “Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast.

Infatuation and fancy is characterized by sudden surges of strong feelings that cause people to make dumb decisions on impulse, as they may feel that these feelings will otherwise taunt them till the end of their days. These emotions are by no means eternal, though, and unless the two develop a deeper connection, they dissipate like morning mist, leaving their victims wondering how their hearts could have been captured in such a painfully sweet way just a few days ago while they feel absolutely nothing now. Love grows slowly but runs deep in the heart, much deeper than hots and colds, butterflies in the stomach and warmth in the chest, and all kinds of feelings that famously resemble the dopamine rush induced by a drug.

Rushing, especially into a romantic relationship, is thus indeed generally one of the worst things one can do, and it only ends well in some exceptional cases.

This one is not exceptional in this sense.

Poor Juliet has her cousin killed in a duel by her newly-wed husband (also a reason for not giving little boys swords), which doesn’t lessen her passion, though, since what distresses her most about his incident is that her husband has been banished and that she has to marry another guy. In a cunning little stratagem birthed in the friar’s absolutely brilliant mind, Juliet pretends to be dead and is put in a tomb. Romeo, struck upon seen her beautiful, lifelike “corpse”, drinks poison. Juliet, upon waking up and seeing her lover dead, stabs herself with his dagger and dies, this time for real.

The end.

Good thing the hateful families realize their mistakes, though. Took them the death of their heirs.

***

Now, is Romeo and Juliet a shitty play?

No, it’s not if you recognize it for what it is.

William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is by no means a touching tale of star-crossed lovers. It is a complex story of two young, inexperienced, fickle teenagers (who live at a time when parents dictate the future of their children and getting to know the person you were to marry is probably a rare occurrence) making unwise decisions as a result of being struck by powerful passion and fancy, which results in the death of both as a result of the age-long hatred between their families. This tragedy is indeed terrible and, without doubt, caused unimaginable pain and suffering to their families. However, despite both taking their lives due to not being able to imagine a life without the other, the idea of Romeo and Juliet as the epitome of romance and a heart-wrenching story of true, self-devoting but unfortunately forbidden love is absolutely unfounded and, I would even dare to say, toxic.

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About the Creator

Jūlija @beeofjuly

Heyo, I'm a multipassionate with a love for medicine, natural sciences, linguistics, music, math, and writing, which I use as an excuse to explore anything that captivates my heart and mind.

To learn more or support, click here 🌵.

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Comments (2)

  • Test8 months ago

    Congratulations on achieving top story status!

  • Doc Sherwood9 months ago

    Just to say, this is brilliant, Jūlija. I think you should include literature in your list of interests! Poor Rosaline, as you rightly say, is used very ill by many of the characters - not just Romeo, grumbling because he's got his tights in a bunch, but Mercutio too who in the scene just after the party presents her as the archetypal smug little tease. This, even though "living chaste" was and is more typically done for religious reasons, than because Rosaline woke up one morning and her first thought was: "Now, how can I perturb Romeo today?" Never even mind that a vow of chastity was probably also a girl of thirteen's best bet, if she didn't much fancy the idea of the marital bed and motherhood at her age. What's so sad about Rosaline today is the dismally egotistical and self-pitying gaze of Romeo (and other men) which on perceiving her choice immediately concludes: THIS MUST BE ABOUT ME. Friar Laurence is indeed the play's one much-needed voice of truth on Romeo's feelings for both Rosaline and Juliet. Not to single out the British actor for praise, but I'll always love Pete Postlethwaite in 1996, nearly saying "thighs" instead of "eyes!" I know I've scribbled the following elsewhere on Vocal, but note how the Nurse's account of her own maidenhead (when she was even younger than her charge) is juxtaposed with a mention of how few teeth she has left. Shakespeare was no fool, and wanted rot and decay to be on our minds as we consider nuptial custom in the society he depicts. Lord and Lady Capulet meanwhile show us how these marriages between little girls and older men work out - he's now an irritable old fool, she a frustrated late-twenties woman who can't resist sneering every chance she gets at her husband's age and infirmity. Just to return to Luhrmann one last time, Diane Venora mauling John Leguizamo about at the party seems to me spot-on in, its utter and abject creepiness. Sadder still, you can imagine such things did happen between wives and their sexy nephews in that world. Don't give little boys swords. You too are spot-on, Jūlija. A superbly observed and masterfully written paper.

Jūlija @beeofjulyWritten by Jūlija @beeofjuly

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